Posts

Showing posts from 2018

For "Sonic Creed," Stefon Harris puts together a mellow program featuring his regular band Blackout

Image
The vibraphonist Stefon Harris has helped extend the historical roster of major jazz stylists on mallet percussion. Cover art: The severe visual presentation  seems at odds with the music inside. This year he has released "Sonic Creed" ( Motema ) with his band Blackout, and is touring on the strength of the album. He will appear at the Purdue Jazz Festival on Jan. 18; and, as a solo player and working with students, at Butler University April 3 and 4 "Sonic Creed" represents him in mid-career (he's 45) as a receptive bandleader with a way of showcasing multiple lines, many of them rhythmic, simultaneously — but without clutter. The catchy Bobby Timmons/Oscar Brown Jr. song "Dat Dere," opens this disc amiably but with distinction. In the front line, Harris and saxophonist Casey Benjamin display a compatibility that runs throughout the program. The two don't shy away from melodic invention, they are assertive without aggressiveness, and they

Protean pro-modern violinist Jennifer Koh displays her affinity for Kaija Saariaho

Image
The close relationship of American violinist Jennifer Koh and Finnish Jennifer Koh displays her affinity for a contemporary Finnish composer. composer Kaija Saariaho is in evidence with the title's mathematical precision in "Saariaho X Koh" (Cedille Records).  The multiplier effect (interpret "X" as "times") rules, as Koh continues on this release to display her receptivity to repertoire off the beaten track.  Saariaho's closeness to visual phenomena saturates her compositions.  The longest of the chamber-music works on this recording is "Light and Matter," for which Koh is joined by Anssi Karttunen, cello, and Nicolas Hedges, piano. The rumbling start doesn't signal menace so much as potential, and the work opens up toward the individuality of each instrument. Colors and shadows, briefly isolated, imprint themselves as essential. The music brings to mind Shelley's "life, like a dome of many-colored glass, stains the

What will not fade away from the 2016 campaign? Among other things, the Flynn-led "Lock Her Up!" chant

Movie dreams: What might be real-world consequences of stories that fire our imaginations?

Image
"Based on a true story" or some such phrase has practically become part of the marketing brand for a number of feature films. Apparently it's difficult to make up stories and commit them to the big screen, or even to adapt a novel for cinematic purposes. Best to raid the preserves of truth, which clings to its hard-won reputation of being stranger than fiction. As a result, after the denouement, filmgoers get a few paragraphs of reading material, sometimes accompanied by still photos, informing them of what the movie's raw material disgorged in the years following the events just enacted for them. I find this both satisfying, insofar as it provides closure, and frustrating, as it deflates the narrative for which I've suspended my disbelief for over 90 minutes or so.  Those who read lots of about movies before they arrive can process "based on a true story" better than I. The feeling struck home for me first at last year's "Hidden Figures."

Blue Violet out of Chicago: The American muse expresses itself in violin-piano duo's survey

Image
Blue Violet Duo has a mission to represent American music that leans toward the amiable side in Louise Chan, piano, and Kate Carter, violin, explore American music for duo. "American Souvenirs" (self-produced, distributed through CD Baby). Kate Carter, violin, and Louise Chan, piano, have a partnership that finds joy in these interpretations of Norman Dello Joio, William Bolcom, John Adams, and Paul Schoenfeld. The compositions come from various segments of  conservative modernism. The mood ranges from nostalgic to the contemporary American scene. Nostalgia, artfully resurfaced, animates the closing composition, "Four Souvenirs" by Schoenfeld. The idioms the composer draws upon are signaled by the movement titles: Samba, Tango, Tin Pan Alley, and Square Dance. The choice of the word "souvenirs" prepares the listener not to expect more than affectionate reminders of four treasured popular musical idioms native to the Western Hemisphere. This is li

With mixed feelings about his candidacy, I offer this seaworthy 2020 campaign song for Joe Biden

'The Nutcracker' thrives in Indianapolis Ballet production

Image
The opening scene of Indianapolis Ballet 's 12th annual "Nutcracker" production subtly reinforces a down-to-earth community feeling of a ballet whose fantasy and dream elements make it ideal for the season, and not just for its Christmas-season setting. Clara looks on as the Nutcracker directs soldier platoon's attack on mice. We see at first the gradual gathering of guests outside the upper-middle-class Stahlbaum home, site of the family's Christmas Eve party.  We can admire the naturalness of the casual, friendly interaction of adults and children before much dancing of any kind has taken place. Tchaikovsky's music has already exerted its charm, of course, starting with the perky overture. Everything that we see and hear is inviting and rests on common ground — a generous invitation to the wonders that follow. It is to the credit of James Leitner's direction that the company conveys such a sociable atmosphere, and when the action moves inside and

'Smock Gets in Their Eyes': tweaking an evergreen song to help explain Trump's 'smocking gun'

'Baby, It's Cold Outside,' but the would-be seducer is dismissed along with his ardor

Dance Kaleidoscope's holiday glow: A world tour of Christmas, plus a celebration of Hanukkah

Image
Dance Kaleidoscope 's resumed tradition of adding year-end holiday luster to its season is back, wearing a splendid two-piece suit: "Let There Be Light (The Story of Hanukkah)" and "World Christmas Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Christmas Around the World." Themes of challenge and restoration abound in 'Let There Be Light.' The program, titled "Home for the Holidays," opened Thursday night on the IRT Upperstage . Both works are the creation of DK artistic director David Hochoy, the latter adapted from last year to fit the current company; "Let There Be Light" revives a 2003 piece. The Hanukkah narrative thread, which is fleshed out in a program note, is applied with a deft touch in "Let There Be Light," yet with more than sufficient emotional impact. The foundational event of the sacrifice Abraham was prepared to carry out of his son Isaac has a poignant position in the middle, with Manuel Valdes in the role of the i

The time is coming when someone officially notifies Trump: 'You can't do that!'

Thomas Hampson focuses on Chicago composers as he furthers the American art song

Image
There is a cornucopia of pleasant surprises available about the American art song in Thomas Thomas Hampson has steadily promoted the vitality of the art song. Hampson's latest recording, "Songs from Chicago" ( Cedille Records) . For keeping interest alive in a 20th-century original, the lifelong Chicagoan John Alden Carpenter, the CD makes its mark particularly with his settings of poems by Langston Hughes and especially by Rabindranath Tagore, whose cycle "Gitanjali" accounts for one-third of the hourlong program, with sensitive assistance at the piano by Kuang-Hao Huang. It's Hampson's debut on the Chicago-based label, which is still under the direction of its founder, James Ginsburg, son of the most widely beloved Supreme Court justice. The performances on "Songs from Chicago" are immaculate. "Gitanjali" is a richly perfumed set of prose poems in a style that is too florid for our era, perhaps, but Carpenter's musical

A tidy 'Messiah' treated expansively in an inaugural Second Presbyterian and Indy Baroque collaboration

Image
Long after George Bernard Shaw deplored the ungainly size of Victorian-era performing forces in "Messiah," fans of Handel's oratorio now usually encounter one of two correctives: Large choruses, well-trained, have become adept at surmounting the choral difficulties and, on the other hand, small vocal ensembles — Shaw wished for "a chorus of twenty capable artists" — have gained greater acceptance in concert and on recordings. The latter course was smartly chosen by Michelle Louer of Second Presbyterian Church in two Michelle L. Louer conducted trim, fit forces. performances over the weekend in collaboration with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. She conducted the trim vocal and instrumental forces in an insightful and fully expressive, but resolutely unshowy, concert Sunday afternoon at the church. Going Shaw's wish several singers fewer, she had trained the church's 15-voice Beecher Singers to meet Handel's demands expertly. More import

The President of Russia and the Saudi Crown Prince have a fall guy in common; they'll be together wherever they go

Keelan Dimick brings APA's Premiere Series to the halfway point

Image
Keelan Dimick (from left), Nick Tucker, and Kenny Phelps engage a Premiere Series crowd. Now living in Miami, Keelan Dimick has a beneficent form of "Iowa stubborn" in his makeup: He is a devotee of transcendental meditation — not an obvious foundation for a 27-year-old jazz pianist-composer. Born in Fairfield in the Hawkeye State, Dimick is the third finalist this season to present two Premiere Series trio sets at the Jazz Kitchen on his way to the American Pianists Awards ' "Discovery Week" in April, when the new Cole Porter Fellow will be selected and given a valuable career boost. Freely acknowledging the gifts meditation has showered upon him, Dimick introduced several originals in the second set by crediting their creation to the practice. Fairfield, as he told the Indianapolis Star, is something of a TM center, and the pianist has been acquainted with the therapeutic/spiritual discipline since childhood. Accompanied by bassist Nick Tucker and dr

Bells to the forefront in guest pianist's Butler University recital

Image
The Advent season bears unmistakable associations with bells and their sounds' heralding function. Tuyen Tonnu, a guest at Butler, focused on solo piano music evoking bells. So the calendar bears an appropriate resonance with the theme of Tuyen Tonnu's piano recital Friday evening at Butler University. The pianist, associate professor at Illinois State University, rang the changes on the theme —from Oliver Knussen to Modest Mussorgsky. The composer whose aesthetic rests squarely on bell and chime sounds, the Estonian Arvo Pärt, was not represented, but the survey was nonetheless far-reaching and suggestive of the many ways tintinnabulation can serve the art of music. The most obvious link is that, like bells, the piano depends upon striking and the subsequent fading of the sound produced (sustained or snuffed by the pedal in the case of the piano). Tonnu seems to be an artist particularly inspired by sound, and is likely to be a rewarding Debussy pianist as well. It&

Fonseca Theatre Company: 'Hooded' shows so much of what's hidden from Americans

Image
Is it a violation of the conventional prohibition against spoilers in a play review if the revealed scene is the first one? I'm choosing to think the ban doesn't apply in the case of  "Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies," which has one more weekend to run in a Fonseca Theatre Company production at Indy Convergence . A stern cop confronts Marquis. So I'm dismissing spoiler etiquette here. The scene is too wonderful a way of placing the play's contradictions about race in capsule form. It's when Warren Jackson as an officious police officer strides onstage to order the audience to turn cellphones back on, put the ringers at their loudest, and feel free to text or take calls during the show. There's also some strong advice to laugh only when a certain ceiling light comes on in the course of the performance. Immediately, a projection on the room's east wall gives the audience opposite instructions. This white liberal complied with the initial

'A Christmas Carol' at IRT: Scrooge can hardly wait to be released from life-forged chains

Image
The first time I saw the Indiana Repertory Theatre production of "A Christmas Carol" with Ryan Artzberger as Ebenezer Scrooge, the old skinflint's awakening to new life struck me as revelatory. Self-made: Scrooge in his counting-house, unknowingly chained. Back then, there was Scrooge's stunned pause as he processes the new person he has been granted the opportunity to become following the Three Spirits' visits. As much as I still cherish that image — with the giggles coming on gradually, with the casting off of long-practiced misanthropy taking on the aura of transfiguration — I welcome the quickened pace of the new production's final moments. Under Benjamin Hanna's direction, there's something like the flicking of a switch between sobs and giggles as Scrooge seizes upon the rare good fortune of making good on what he has just learned. As seen opening night Saturday, Artzberger's Scrooge throws himself immediately into the joy of childhood

Who's superstitious? Maybe not the new Phoenix, as it debuts its 13th annual "Very Phoenix Xmas" production

Image
Curiosity is the mother of superstition, probably. If you believe you can protect yourself against Momentarily sedate, eight female actors make up the "Merry Superstitious" cast. exercising too much curiosity, you may adopt practices or sayings with the supposed supernatural power to ward off bad luck or bring on good fortune. Phoenix Theatre grabs that bull by the horns in titling its 13th annual variety show "A Very Phoenix Xmas 13: Merry Superstitious." Many theatergoers besides me will attend the company's first version of its 13-year-old Yuletide production in its new venue with a surfeit of curiosity. How will "A Very Phoenix Xmas" look and feel and sound there without the guidance of Bryan Fonseca? (His founding artistic hand was removed from the tiller last spring; he's now steering a new theatrical ship out of a west-side harbor. ) The short answer is that the new production connects with tradition in its sometimes sharp-edged mi

Rachel Barton Pine turns her lavish, expert attention to black American composers

Image
As she informs the listener in her program notes to "Blues Dialogues," Rachel Barton Pine is a Chicagoan whose interest in the city's musical roots go way back, including a fervent affinity for the blues that she's long cultivated in addition to her classical training and achieved artistry. Another perspective: Rachel Barton Pine displays her classical/blues chops. In "Blues Dialogues: Music by Black Composers" ( Cedille Records ), she provides an extensive overview of works, some of which she has helped bring to light, for both violin alone and with piano accompaniment. It's not easy to give a thorough survey of the rewards to be had on this generously proportioned CD. Starting with Indianapolis' own David N. Baker, Pine looks back to the godfather of African-American classical music, William Grant Still, and up to Daniel Bernard Roumain, a composer in his 40s whose "Filter"  brings to the acoustic violin some of the borderline no

The Romaine Blues: A visionary salute in bad taste to a toxic food crisis

When he visited California over the weekend to see the fire damage, the President proved himself to be a stranger in Paradise

ICO patrons get a chance to hear a stellar principal player in a major concerto

Image
Anton Stadler was a bit of a mess as a person, but as the premier clarinetist of his day he made posterity lucky in the music his excellence as a musician drew from his friend Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791). Eli Eban is also acting principal of the Israel Camerata/Jerusalem. Among the the results is perhaps the greatest wind-instrument concerto, the one in A major for clarinet, K. 622. Eli Eban, distinguished professor of clarinet at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, played the work at the peak of magnificence Saturday with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra , of which he is principal clarinet. In the Schrott Center for the Arts, music director Matthew Kraemer conducted a program that also included Mendelssohn's "Trumpet" Overture in C major, op.101, and Luciano Berio's "Rendering," a restoration, with linking original material, of sketches for Franz Schubert's Tenth Symphony. The concerto is one of the marvelous products of Mozart'

I've Got a Feeling Jeff Flake will change his mind again before he retires

Indiana University production of "Hansel and Gretel" appeals to all ages in Clowes Hall performance

Image
The challenge to innocence is a big driver of folktales, so think of the potential resonance now when exaggerated fears of childhood dangers have influenced parenting as never before. That means "Hansel and Gretel," an old German story given to world literature by the Brothers Grimm, loses some of its quaintness whenever a production of the Engelbert Humperdinck opera takes the stage nowadays. It's doing so this weekend — the second of two performances is this afternoon —in a show trucked in from Bloomington, where the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater mounted an updated production of "Hansel and Gretel" and debuted it at home just before Election Day. Brother and sister apprehensively face a night in the dark woods. Double-cast from the Jacobs School's wealth of sturdy young voices and conducted by Arthur Fagen, Friday's performance in Clowes Hall displayed the sureness of Opera Theater's customarily high production

Danish String Quartet returns amid lots of buzz from last year's Ensemble Music appearance

Image
To deal with the novelty first: Hans Abrahamsen's String Quartet No. 1 ("Ten Preludes") gave the evening's best indication that even when the Danish String Quartet is presented with a miscellany of demands for the four players, they remain unfailingly a unit. The Danish Quartet, solidly unified in performance, indulges its individualism here. The group appeared again Wednesday in the Ensemble Music Society series at the Indiana History Center, 13 months after they made a sensational local debut. EMS President John Failey noted from the stage how unusual it is for this presenter to invite an ensemble back so soon. But the wisdom of the decision was evident in the difficulty of finding any of the Basile Theater 's 290 seats empty as the concert started. As for the work by the Danish composer Abrahamsen (b. 1952), it consists of a series of short pieces promising development of some sort but never allowing it to take place. The idioms mastered in the cour

Ronen Chamber Ensemble's season-long 'sister cities' theme visits Piran and native son Tartini

Image
With two outright masterpieces shoring up the program, the Ronen Chamber Ensemble held on to its celebration of Indianapolis' Sister Cities with a salute to Giuseppe Tartini, a native of Piran, Slovenia (known as Pirano when it was part of the Venetian empire of his day (1692-1770)). The Concertino for Clarinet and Piano is Gordon Jacob's arrangement drawn from a couple of Tartini violin sonatas. It was played with the zest of a well-prepared appetizer to main courses of Mozart and Beethoven on Tuesday night at Indiana Landmarks Center . The slow-fast-slow-fast layout of the work made for satisfying contrasts of textures and tempos for the duo of David Bellman and Gregory Martin. The clarinetist's passagework was unfailingly smooth and even in the Allegro molto; in the other fast movement, a sometimes brutally rapid finale, the difficulty for the clarinet to match the notes-per-second capability of the violin occasionally became evident. Zachary DePue, Gregory Marti